EKU to cut 200 positions, close Danville campus, slash sports

EKU President Michael Benson announced $25 million in budget cuts on March 22, including lay-offs, program elimination and the closure of the Danville regional campus.
EKU President Michael Benson announced $25 million in budget cuts on March 22, including lay-offs, program elimination and the closure of the Danville regional campus.

Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson recommended $25 million in budget cuts Thursday that would affect nearly every level of the Richmond-based school. His plan would cut 200 positions, close its Danville campus, eliminate academic programs and slash athletics spending by 20 percent, which might mean shutting down one or two sports teams.

“For EKU to cope with obligations of this magnitude, there will be losses and long-term transformations,” Benson said in a campus-wide email Thursday afternoon. “To meet our financial goal, the university simply cannot afford all the functions it has historically supported. EKU has no choice but to offer fewer programs, support limited activities and re-evaluate the structure of many areas at the University.”

The cuts were proposed by the Budget Advisory Committee, which has been working on the issue for several months.

Matthew Winslow, chairman of the faculty senate and a budget advisory committee member, said the process was “grueling but fair.

“There’s no good news in there,” he said. “It’s all bad news, when you have to cut $25 million. It’s a very difficult day.”

Winslow said the committee listened to deans and other campus leaders who made suggestions about budget cuts within their colleges and departments. He would not reveal specific program cuts.

“We then had to decide which proposals we thought were the least bad of them all,” Winslow said. “The general approach we took was respectful and as transparent as you can get. But it’s very difficult.”

EKU’s financial problems stem from a decade of cuts in state funding, as well as swelling pension obligations. In addition, Benson announced earlier this year that the school would not raise tuition in the next academic year, a move that eliminates between $4 million and $6 million of potential funding. The school would lose another $4 million over two years under a 6.25 percent cut currently projected in the state budget, although it’s possible that could change in coming days as legislative leaders finalize the budget.

The EKU Board of Regents will consider the recommendations at its April 6 meeting, where more details on specific program and personnel cuts will be released.

According to Benson’s email, the recommendations include:

▪ A reduction in employees that affects filled, vacant and part-time positions in both academic and administrative areas, totaling approximately 200 positions;

▪ The elimination of unspecified upper-level administrative and academic roles;

▪ Closing the Danville campus, which has 93 students and offers associate, bachelors’ and online degrees in subjects such as criminal justice, business and psychology;

▪ A 20 percent reduction of funding for EKU athletics, including the possible elimination of one or two sport teams that don’t generate revenue;

▪ Academic program suspensions as identified by Academic Affairs and evaluated by the Council on Academic Affairs and the EKU Faculty Senate;

▪ A review of downsizing, centralizing, and/or outsourcing options of university services. EKU outsourced its custodial and grounds service staffs last year, eliminating 180 jobs.

▪ Increasing revenue by creating new online offerings for high-demand EKU programs, including criminal justice, business administration, communication studies and sports management.

EKU is not alone in facing financial hardship. Western Kentucky University officials estimate its deficit at $40 million and recently announced the loss of 140 positions and the closure of an academic college. UK is looking at ways to solve a $250 million shortfall over the next five years. Morehead State, which has suffered from enrollment drops following a major decline in Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry, will offer voluntary buyouts.

“Although every area feels the effects of this budget reduction, EKU’s commitment to educating students will not waver in spite of tough financial hardship,” Benson said. “During tough times, it is important that we all work together to overcome challenges. I have witnessed the ‘Colonel Spirit’ many times, and it is powerful.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford